RI report… and clamming on Block Island!
Rare is the time off these summers as I get older, and I don’t even have kids. I just read this NY Times article about four guys who’ve been living together in various apartments in the city since college, some 18 years ago, and they’re all about to turn 40, with few commitments romantic, career-bound, or otherwise, between them. I can’t say it painted such a rosy future for someone like myself, though this week I get a taste of the solo life I could hardly afford in the neighborhood I’ve lived in for the past six years, as all my roommates are currently on vacations of their own. This past weekend I uncommonly took some time off from the print shop to take a short trip up to Rhode Island, where, going along with the theme of the four bachelors, I haven’t been since I was in college. I planned to stay for three days, one of those days marked for reconnaissance for my upcoming GoRuck Challenge on Block Island on October 13—recon both for what the Challenge would impose physically on me with its terrain and topography (must start hitting the bridges and hills more) and for when I plan to sneak out and go fishing before and after (must pack korkers, waders, dry top, bucktails… standard Montauk attire… may need to invest in a wet suit for longer term use… I’d probably look pretty good in one).
I spent the first couple days fishing Narragansett beach at the mouth of the Narrow River. My friend Tyler and I kayaked over there up river and I managed to make it without crashing his kayak, though I wouldn’t be so lucky on the way home. The rocks we fished were covered in bird shit, but we climbed up and over anyhow. It seemed like a great spot for the outgoing tide, with the Narrow River living up to its name and one could easily cast across the mouth as it emptied into the ocean. There’s a great rip that forms over a sandbar right by the beach side and the current forms a nice mushroom cloud push from the outset of the river: casting toward the middle brings your lure in a fish-friendly parabola swinging wide to the left for hungry predators. This day, however, was hot and sunny. We showed up in early afternoon so there wasn’t much happening, of size, anyhow. I looked to my left and happened to see a couple of tails on their way back under the surface. I ran over and cast the 1oz bucktail I was using, feeling a frenzy of tiny taps on the line, but no hookups. I called Tyler over to see. On my third cast I saw what those taps were all about: there was a school of little snapper blues attacking a lure almost the same size as they were, like they were piranhas. No wonder I couldn’t get any hookups—the bucktail’s hook was far too big for these guys’ mouths. Tyler tied on a small Kastmaster and had his pick of tiny bluefish on just about every cast.
I was looking for something bigger and got a small striper on a bigger Kastmaster, but that was it. Was hoping some bigger blues would move in to cannibalize the snappers but they never did. I left the rock wishing it was night instead, when I was sure the bigger fish would move in, especially if this school of snappers stuck around. Then I flipped over Tyler’s kayak and dumped everything into the water when I got caught in the sweeping outgoing current. Oops.
I went back the next day on a crystalline sunset painting the cooling sand a soft pink and orange. Earlier in the day Tyler caught a nice sea bass on the boat offshore. Actually, I caught it technically, since he threw it back in the ocean without reviving it and I spotted it listing on its side with seagulls moving in. “Your fish is gonna die, dude,” I said to him. “We may as well go get it.” Tyler jumped to the controls (see: my unfamiliarity with boats—is it “the wheel” or “the controls”?) and hustled after his (my) fish screaming at these seagulls who’d spied easy pickins’. He killed the motor and I grabbed a net and scooped up his/my fish. No more second chances for that guy.
Back at Narragansett, Tyler went surfing while I walked to the Narrow River. A family was getting their beach portraits taken, all white as a dull dormitory wall, each dressed in the generic beach-going casual of the upper class: white dress shirts and khaki shorts, from babe to octogenarian. The tide was coming in fast with a decent shore wind so I had to go heavy. Metals, darters, and 3oz pencils were in the arsenal, but nothing was producing. I had a vision of something big and mean hitting my pencil popper as I worked it from the rip to the flatter water, but of course that never happened. I stood around watching people enjoy the sun a glowing ball of vibrant orange go down behind the distant trees, happy couples and old friends on this point. I couldn’t get a good shot of it with my shitty gen2 iPhone, so I took this shitty picture of my fishing reel instead.
Saturday was Block Island time. Tyler and the rest of his friends entertained themselves with wakeboarding and I, having no desire to eat multiple shits on the water, headed out for the Block Island ferry. I don’t know what it is about tourists in Rhode Island this time of year, but many of them seemed pretty uncomfortable with me around for some reason. I sat down on a bench with headphones on and Robin Shulman’s excellent book, next to a woman and her young daughter—and the mother quickly got up and switched places with her kid so as to make sure she sat between us. Weirdos. Once on the ferry I saw a couple guys walking around with beers and I made my way downstairs to find, behold! Beers for sale. I bought a couple Bud Heavys and a pack of peanut M&Ms, a couple of GoRuck staples (I’ve been a big fan of peanut M&Ms since I moved to LA back in 2000, but I will still take a fresh pack of Goldenberg’s Peanut Chews any day over anything else).
The ferry takes about an hour to get to Block Island. I enjoyed pretty much every minute of it. We pulled into the harbor and I stumbled out into beach town USA, although this being Block Island, 16 miles from RI in the middle of the sound, it had its own distinct flavor to it. Hotels, beach stuff, cotton candy and salt water taffy, people everywhere in flip flops—it was nicely reminiscent of the summers of my youth in Delaware. I wandered around town for a bit before I met up with Jon Capobianco, of Derby fame for hitting the Green Street pier with us the night his wife went into labor with his son Rocco. Jon picked me up in this great older navy blue Range Rover with huge knobby tires. He was with his friend Kevin, who grew up in RI and lives in Orange County now. The plan was to pick up his wife, Bridget, and Rocco from the beach, catch a quick drink somewhere, then go clamming, which I’d never done. We picked up Jon’s wife and son and went to a place called the Yellow Kitten, a classic beach bar with its wooden floors and stage set up with a house drum kit. One could almost hear the pop cover songs that would be popping off in a few hours. We drank frozen drinks called Mudslides courtesy of Jon. Kevin, it turned out, was a punk in the 80s and told me about seeing bands like Bad Brains and Black Flag back in Providence at a place called the Living Room. He told me about seeing Suicidal Tendencies on their first East Coast tour and he and his friends dressing Suicidal before they realized they dressed like SoCal cholos. We talked about Youth Brigade and Gang Green and more bands I missed on their first time around but caught onto later. I asked him about one of my favorite Boston bands called The Freeze and he said, “We all had copies of the ‘This is Boston, Not LA’ record.” We talked about the transition of punk and skateboarding to modern times, which was fascinating to me because at first glance I never would have pegged Kevin as an old punker (not “old” exactly but… you know). In fact our first conversation was mostly about paleo diet and all the aged ails of his it cured. We finished our drinks and headed out to New Harbor. Along the way I cataloged several enticing coves and rocks and put them in the memory bank for October. Block Island is full of excellent surf fishing spots.
We tried to get clamming licenses but we arrived too late. We said fuck it and went anyway. Along the path to New Harbor (technically, the Great Salt Pond) there were cute, colorful handmade signs telling us the regulations on clamming and, basically, that the police were watching us. Jon, Kevin, me, and one of Jon’s friends trudged past the signs with rakes in hand to a solitary figure sun bathing a hundred yards up, a woman in a bikini lounging in a beach chair. Jon left it up to Kevin to do the talking, which gave me the impression that he is somewhat of the ladies man of the group, and she quickly gave up the clamming spot, about fifty yards up near a grassy point. I have to say at this point none of us had any real clue on how to clam. Jon operated on the intel that some kids he knew dug up 90+ clams here a day earlier. Kevin said he clammed once. I never clammed at all, but a guy once told me he would find them by digging around with his feet in the sand. I took one of the rakes and started hacking at the sand in about eight inches of water. Sand eels abounded, apparently happy to follow me while I dug up the sediment. I nabbed a couple clams with the rake, but started finding more by digging around barefoot, then digging them out with my knife. There was a shitload of young horseshoe crabs, which nobody liked. They liked, however, to burrow into the shallow sand. The tide was as clear as bathwater, and felt warm enough to settle for one. I found more clams, but quickly ditched the rake to Jon to go all in with the natural method. I was doing the moonwalk across the sand and coming up big. Soon I was filling my pockets with clams. Yeah, I didn’t know what was legal and what wasn’t but I threw back the smallest of the bunch when I had a handful. We were already clamming illegally, so what did it really matter if you had a few shorts? We were foraging! I was foraging! I could be on Ben’s TV show, except that everyone knows Ben never catches anything when the camera is on. We all bagged about 70 clams between the four of us and headed back to the truck as the sun set low and bright and the fog rolled in over the marina.
I went back with Jon and Kevin to the house they were staying at. We took a dirt road through the tall grass back away from any paved road. The fog rolled in thick giving everything a spooky quality as it blew in hard to the house, a property owned by a “divorcée” as Jon described her. I suppose “divorcée” is a term used only when describing a rich woman whose marriage has ended and she has come up even better financially on the other side. Nobody, in common parlance, calls a woman whose shitty marriage has finally ended and she’s scraping by with three jobs to support the kid she and some asshole had in attempt to save aforementioned marriage a divorcée. She’s just a hit and run. Anyhow, the fog gave an equally heavy haunted appearance to everything outside the house as Bridget hustled to make plates for Kevin and myself, as I had to catch the last ferry in 40 minutes. Kevin contemplated taking the ferry back as well before resigning himself. “I think I’m gonna stay,” he said finally. I agreed with him, it was the right decision. Jon threw the clams on the grill as we sucked down High Lifes. When they were done he threw them into a metal bucket. I don’t know if it was the freshness, the clams plucked within the hour from their sandy homes, the satisfaction of hunting our own food, or the natural saltiness of the recent sea bath, but they were hot and especially delicious. I probably could have sat all foggy night getting drunker and scarfing down clams. Alas, I had to leave. I hopped into the truck with Jon, Rocco, and Kevin and hit the last ferry with some time to spare. I said my thank yous and farewells, told Rocco to listen to his mom and pop, and boarded the drunk boat back to the mainland. I had Spiritualized in the headphones and another beer stashed in the ruck. Another hour in the blackness and fog and then I’d be back on dry land.